LA teachers ready for first strike in 30 years

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Teachers in Los Angeles (LA), whose 640,000 students make it the nation’s second-largest school district, are ready to strike today over a contract dispute that follows teacher walkouts in other states that emboldened organised labour after a critical defeat at the United States (US) Supreme Court.

United Teachers Los Angeles said its 35,000 members would walk off the job for the first time in 30 years if a deal wasn’t reached on higher pay and smaller class sizes.

The Los Angeles Unified School District said the union’s demands could bankrupt the school system, which is projecting a half-billion-dollar deficit this budget year and has billions obligated for pension payments and health coverage for retired teachers.

Negotiations are continuing, but little progress is evident. The two sides rejected Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti’s offer to broker a deal.

Thousands of teachers took to the streets of downtown Los Angeles last month to demand a new contract. They wore red shirts, banged drums and carried signs that read ‘Stand With LA Teachers!’ as they marched.

They are hoping to build on the ‘Red4Ed’ movement that began last year in West Virginia, where a strike resulted in a raise. It moved to Oklahoma, Kentucky, Arizona, Colorado and Washington state, spreading from conservative states with “right to work” laws that limit the ability to strike to the more liberal West Coast with strong unions.

“What you’re seeing with unions is real enthusiasm and a belief that you can actually be successful,” said Robert Bruno, a professor of labour and employment relations at the University of Illinois. “The educational sector is rife with deep grievance and frustration, but there’s now a sense that you can actually win.”

Parents and teachers hold signs while talking to reporters outside Los Angeles Unified School District headquarters in Los Angeles on Tuesday. – AP